Inside Hangar 1’s vodka made from smoke-tained Napa grapes

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Alameda’s Hangar 1 Distillery is synonymous with world-class vodka. It’s also known for some rather clever experimentation. In 2018, the distillery installed fine net fog catchers around the Bay Area and used those droplets to harvest water for Fog Point Vodka, their boozy ode to San Francisco.

While that may sound a tad gimmicky, Hangar 1’s latest vodka, Smoke Point, is all heart.

This month, the distillery is releasing a new vodka made from smoke-tainted Napa wine grapes damaged in the 2020 Glass Fire. Smoke Point has an elegant, floral nose with subtle flavors of licorice and allspice — and not a whiff of the fire that devastated Wine Country last year.

The Glass Fire scorched 67,484 acres and damaged or destroyed 1,555 structures, including 308 homes and 31 wineries, restaurants and lodges. Among them: Chateau Boswell Winery near St. Helena and The Restaurant at Meadowood, which burned to the ground. And smoke billowed across countless acres of vineyards.

Smoke taint is tricky. It happens when wine grapes are exposed to smoke — the giveaway is a burnt taste akin to wet ash. But sometimes it’s undetectable, even in grapes that have been tested, until much later.

The unfermented wine used for Smoke Point was sourced from Crimson Wine Group and made from merlot and malbec grapes grown in Napa, would have otherwise been discarded, making Smoke Point an act of sustainability as well as an experiment in terroir.

It’s also a way to give back. All proceeds from Smoke Point, which retails for $50 in the tasting room, will go to the Sacramento-based California Fire Foundation and will be matched by Hangar 1’s distributor.

We recently caught up with distiller Eric Lee, who made the vodka, to find out more.

Q: What made you want to do this project?

We wanted to help the community in Wine Country. The grapes were going to be discarded, so this was a way to use them and give back at the same time.

Q: What were your thoughts when you first began working with smoke-tainted grapes?

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